Make a monthly donation on JustGiving for Laff. Please Donate

‘I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful’

– Valentine, Carol Ann Duffy.

As many of you may know, Cusco is the historical capital of the Inca Empire bursting with pre-colonial and colonial monuments and architecture alike. Most notably, it hosts Machu Picchu nearby, a UNESCO World Heritage Site drawing over 1.2 million visitors each year. Cusco itself is therefore estimated to count on over 3.5 million visitors a year (Andina, 2018), for which tourism has become a major industry. This, in turn, has caused the traditional charm of the city to recede and hide beneath its outer layers.

Why dress it up? When I first got to Cusco, I did not like it very much.

Prior to Cusco, I spent two months labouring as a construction worker under the hot Mexican sun, eating my body weight in avocado, beans and sea food while also exploring beaches, volcanoes and cities alike. Slowly climbing up the endlessly rising mountains to Cusco in my overnight bus from Lima, witnessing the drastic changes of scenery, clearly marked the beginning of a new very different chapter in my life – a chapter I was very excited about.

However, as soon as I stepped off the bus my first hurdle manifested itself in an all-encompassing and inescapable way. It was cold. Very cold. Although probably due to the fact that I was used to a blazing 34°C heat, it was clear my array of shorts and shirts was not going to cut it in 17°C. I needed warmer clothes. And so, my first mission in Cusco before starting work was to find long socks, another pair of trousers and a fleece.

My mission doubled as a nice excuse to explore the city, yet I quickly grew frustrated at the incessant massage offers while passing through the centre, the prices in shops comparable to Europe and the lack of clothing available in my size, including socks! Tired and defeated, I started my first week of work heavily layered up.

The sprawling Barratillo Market, open every Saturday in Cusco

Fortunately, after speaking to my seasoned colleagues I was soon directed to two markets slightly further out from the centre: the daily El Molino and the weekly Baratillo, a large uncontained second-hand market. Here I found goods at a price friendly to the traveller’s wallet and significantly closer to my size although still not quite right (perks of standing 25cm taller than the average Peruvian man).

Despite having peered past the superficial layer of Cusco, I still couldn’t help but feel disheartened at the differences I found everywhere compared to Mexico, particularly in those pass-times dear to me: eating and drinking. To me Cusco remained an overly expensive mid-size town with limited facilities to indulge myself in. Naturally then, I leapt at the opportunity of escaping to the beautiful landscape this valley finds itself in.

A faraway glimpse of Apu Mama Simona

The dramatic scenery truly exceeds any expectations you may have of this place. Whether it be visiting the classic sights, such as Rainbow Mountain, or straying off the beaten path visiting imposing giants such as Apu Mama Simona, one never tires of this land timelessly scrunched up like the skin of a pug.

Yet, nothing ties up a day of hiking like a nice cool beer. After two weeks, I considered myself an expert of Cusco’s bar culture as I stayed far away from the centre and visited instead the (often foreign-owned) craft breweries dotted around town. While the same price as in London, the unlimited popcorn and the taste of the beer merited the investment (at least in my mind). However, unbeknown to me, below all this still operated a layer of drinking culture I had not yet snooped out – Cusco’s traditional Chicherías and Picanterías.

A delicious glass of Chicha

Chicha is a fermented maize drink with a long-standing history across Andean communities where it has been drunk recreationally or in rituals (as was the case with the Incas). The establishments in which they are sold in Cusco have recently been recognised as important cultural heritage of Peru. Chicha itself leaves a strong impression on the untrained palate as you can’t quite pin-point what it is you’re tasting. And it is precisely for this reason that I enjoy it so much. Also the fact that a caporal de chicha (~550ml) costs between S/0.50 and S/2.00 doesn’t hurt at all.

But more than just cheap and delicious drink, these Picanterías reveal a part of Cusco which I had unknowingly been yearning for all along. Pockets of authenticity. Past the unending hustle and hassle of Cusqueñan tour agencies in the centre of town, these drinking holes carefully signalled by red plastic bags on a stick, mark a welcomed break from preferential treatment as a foreigner. Greeted either by a warm smile or absolute indifference, the mamis that run these places don’t bat an eyelid when you enter their premises. And the patrons don’t think twice about striking up a conversation either, whether you speak Quechua or not, nor do they hesitate about including you in any of their private celebrations.

Live music at Mama Trini’s Chichería

Although initially I thought it must be down to the homely setting, I have come to appreciate this feeling elsewhere too. While you can eat in restaurants with lovely views over Cusco and “haute-cuisine” food, eating a home-cooked two-course meal in a market stall squashed between school children on one side and their grandparents on the other, or eating at a snack shack between hordes of students, is a much more enjoyable and wholesome experience. Especially when you go often enough to build a rapport with the casera, who beams a smile at you as soon as you walk in.

You see, when I first came to Cusco I didn’t like the flimsy outer skin I was met with because it seemed just for show and catered just for tourists. However, having lived here for 6 weeks I have managed to peel back this layer somewhat to reveal the real Cusco lying beneath. Now I am sure that like your breath after eating an onion, Cusco will definitely linger within me as I move on to my next chapter.

(If you’d like to read more about chicha in Cusco: how it’s made, its history and the best spots to explore, check out my drinking partner in crime’s blog post here: https://thesplashmag.wordpress.com/2019/04/23/chichatown/ )

Enjoying a lunchbreak at Snack Shack Mechita

Roberto Spacey Martín

*

Sobre Cusco y Cebollas

‘Te doy una cebolla.
Su beso feroz se quedará en tus labios,
posesivo y fiel’

– Valentine, Carol Ann Duffy

Como muchos de vosotros sabréis, Cusco es la capital histórica del Imperio Inca, repleta de monumentos y arquitectura precolonial y colonial. Muy especialmente, queda cerca de Machu Picchu, un sitio declarado Patrimonio de la Humanidad por la UNESCO que atrae a más de 1.2 millones de visitantes cada año. Por lo tanto, se estima que Cusco cuenta con más de 3.5 millones de visitantes anualmente (Andina, 2018), por lo que el turismo se ha convertido en la industria más importante. Esto, en cambio, ha provocado que el encanto tradicional de la ciudad retroceda y se oculte bajo sus capas exteriores.

¿Por qué no ser sinceros? Cuando recién llegué a Cusco, no me gustó mucho.

Antes de Cusco, estuve dos meses trabajando como obrero bajo el ardiente sol mexicano, comiendo mi peso en aguacates, frijoles y mariscos mientras exploraba playas, volcanes y ciudades. La gradual subida a Cusco en mi autobús nocturno desde Lima, admirando los drásticos cambios de escenario con la elevación infinita de las montañas, marcó claramente el comienzo de un nuevo capítulo muy diferente en mi vida – un capítulo que me entusiasmaba mucho.

Sin embargo, en cuanto me bajé del autobús, mi primer obstáculo se manifestó de una manera sobrecogedora e ineludible. Hacía frío. Mucho frío. Aunque probablemente debido a que estaba acostumbrado a un calor abrasador de 34 ° C, quedaba claro que mis pantalones cortos y camisetas no iban a bastar. Necesitaba ropa más abrigada. Y así, mi primera misión en Cusco antes de comenzar a trabajar fue encontrar calcetines largos, otro par de pantalones y un polar.

Mi misión se convirtió en una buena excusa para explorar la ciudad, pero rápidamente me frustré por las incesantes ofertas de masajes al pasar por el centro, los precios en las tiendas comparables a Europa y la falta de ropa disponible de mi talla, ¡incluyendo los calcetines! Cansado y derrotado, empecé mi primera semana de trabajo llevando varias capas de ropa.

Mercado Baratillo, en Cusco

Afortunadamente, después de hablar con mis colegas más experimentados, me dirigí a dos mercados un poco más alejados del centro: El Molino abierto todos los días y el Baratillo, un gran mercado de segunda mano abierto una vez a la semana. Aquí encontré artículos a un precio favorable a la cartera del viajero y tallas mucho más cercanas a la mía, aunque todavía no del todo exacta (esa la ventaja de ser 25cm más alto que el promedio peruano).

A pesar de haber traspasado la capa superficial del Cusco, todavía no podía dejar de sentirme descorazonado ante las diferencias que encontré en todas partes en comparación con México, particularmente en aquellos pasatiempos que me encantan: comer y beber. Para mí, Cusco seguía siendo una ciudad de tamaño medio, demasiado cara y con pocos sitios para el disfrute. Así que, entonces, aprovechaba de cualquier oportunidad para escaparme a los hermosos parajes que rodean a este valle.

Apu Mama Simona

El dramático paisaje realmente supera cualquier expectativa que puedas tener de este lugar. Ya sea visitando lugares típicos, como la montaña de los siete colores, o aquellos fuera de los circuitos habituales para visitar gigantes imponentes como Apu Mama Simona, uno nunca se cansa de esta tierra eternamente arrugada como la piel de un pug.

Y creo que todos podemos reconocer que nada completa un día de caminata como una buena cerveza fría. Después de dos semanas, me consideré un experto en la cultura de bares de Cusco yendo a zonas alejadas del centro para visitar cervecerías artesanales (a menudo de propiedad extranjera) repartidas por la ciudad. A pesar de que tiene el mismo precio que en Londres, las palomitas de maíz ilimitadas y el sabor de la cerveza merecieron la inversión (al menos en mi opinión). Sin embargo, debajo de todo esto todavía operaba una capa de cultura de beber que aún no había investigado – las chicherías y picanterías tradicionales de Cusco.

Un vaso de Chicha

Chicha es una bebida de maíz fermentado con una larga historia en las comunidades andinas, donde se ha tomado de forma recreativa o en rituales (como fue el caso de los Incas). Los establecimientos en los que se venden en Cusco han sido reconocidos recientemente como importante patrimonio cultural de Perú. La chicha en sí misma deja una fuerte impresión en el paladar no acostumbrado, ya que no se puede identificar cuáles son los distintos sabores. Y es precisamente por esta razón que la disfruto tanto. Además, el hecho de que el precio de un caporal de chicha (~ 550 ml) esté entre S / 0.50 y S / 2.00 no duele en absoluto.

Pero más que solo bebidas baratas y deliciosas, estas picanterías revelan una parte del Cusco que, sin saberlo, me había estado faltando desde que llegué. Autenticidad. Más allá del ajetreo interminable de las agencias de turismo cusqueñas en el centro de la ciudad, estos oasis, cuidadosamente señalados con bolsas de plástico rojas atadas a un palo, nos dan un agradecido respiro del tratamiento preferencial que recibimos como extranjero. Recibidos por una cálida sonrisa o por absoluta indiferencia, las mamis que regentan estos lugares no parpadean cuando entras en sus locales. Y los clientes tampoco piensan dos veces antes de entablar una conversación, ya sea que hables quechua o no, ni dudan en incluirte en ninguna de sus celebraciones privadas.

Música en vivo en la Chichería Mamá Trini

Aunque inicialmente pensé que esto se debía al ambiente casero del lugar, también he llegado a apreciar este sentimiento en otros lugares de la ciudad. Si bien se puede comer comida de “alta cocina” en restaurantes con hermosas vistas sobre Cusco, comerse un menú económico de dos platos en un puesto de comida apretujado entre niños de colegio por un lado y abuelos por el otro, o comer en los Snack Shacks entre multitud de estudiantes, es una experiencia mucho más agradable y enriquecedora. Especialmente cuando vas lo bastante a menudo como para establecer una relación con la casera, que te sonríe en cuando entras.

Verás, cuando recién llegué a Cusco, no me gustó la piel externa y endeble con la que me encontré porque me parecía falsa y solo para turistas. Sin embargo, después de haber vivido aquí estas últimas 6 semanas, he logrado retirar un poco esta capa para revelar el verdadero Cusco que se encuentra debajo. Ahora estoy seguro de que, al igual que tu aliento después de comer una cebolla, Cusco permanecerá definitivamente dentro de mí cuando continúe con mi próximo capítulo.

Almorzando en Snack Shack Mechita

Roberto Spacey Martín

Source:

Andina (2018) Peru: Over 3 million tourists to visit Cusco thru end-2018. Andina: Agencia Peruana de Noticia [Accessed on 14/05/2019].

I have been volunteering for LAFF as the Communications Coordinator for just over a month now. It has involved a lot of new things for me (from using Instagram to dancing Bachata!) and I have enjoyed it immensely. One of my biggest challenges has been keeping up with the rest of my team’s strong levels of Spanish. Although we speak English in the office mostly (except on Tuesdays), whenever we are out visiting our partners and the children we work with – it is all in Spanish. I did weekly evening classes in Spanish for nearly a year before I came to Peru. But however much grammar you learn in advance, you can never avoid that terrified feeling of not knowing what is being said to you most of the time.

This feeling isn’t new to me. Straight after university I moved to Berlin without knowing a word of German. Why do I do these things? For the same reason I do everything I do, for poetry. Rilke led me to Germany, just as Blanca Varela led me to Peru. I wanted to read these poets’ poems in my own words, not in some stuffy old translation that tries to wedge square English rhymes into a round hole. In short, I wanted to translate them myself.

Attempting to dance Bachata with some of my fellow volunteers!

I find translating a poem from a foreign language much easier than trying to understand something someone says to me in conversation. This is because, unlike a conversation, the words in a poem are not floating around in the air, hopelessly colloquial and specific, but all-encompassing and set in stone, like the writing on a grave.

In his essay ‘Che cos’è la poesia?‘ (or ‘What is poetry?’ – an Italian title for an essay by a French-Algerian troublemaker) Jacques Derrida uses an image to answer his question: poetry is a hedgehog, curled up in a ball in the middle of the road, too scared to uncurl and run away in order to protect itself from the impending danger of a car.

What is he trying to say about poetry? In order to show you what he means, Derrida uses an image rather than an explanation. By doing so he treats his essay as if it were a poem, not a piece of prose. He doesn’t try to explain to you how poetry is a hedgehog, just as I wouldn’t try to explain the meaning of one of my own poems. It just is. Just as a person’s facial expression and body language are equally as important (if not more) as the words they are saying, the way a poem looks, and the images it makes in your head, are equally as important as what is written down.

I like to look at the words in a poem I’m translating as if they were objects: specifically, objects on display in a market stall in a foreign country.

Local indoor market, Tarma

In Peru there are markets everywhere. There are big touristy craft markets that sell souvenirs as well as local, indoor markets that sell groceries and everyday household necessities. There are markets that fill whole neighbourhoods with different colours of tarpaulin on certain days, where you can turn a corner from multicoloured woven blankets onto whole pig’s heads and old ladies skinning guinea pigs. Then there are the the people selling their wares on the streets: professional-looking ones wheeling their popcorn machines or anticucho grills over unforgivingly uneven pavements until they find their prime spot. But also the countless people sitting on the streets, with a blanket of peanuts or loose potatoes in front of them, or people walking around selling homemade sandwiches out of their backpacks, or hopping onto buses with boxes of sweets.

Everyone has something to sell. It just makes sense here. I love bartering for a plastic dolphin keyring on a packed bus, picking up some quick huevitos de cordoniz on my way to work, and crunching on canchita on my way home. But my favourite things to browse for in a market are second hand objects and clothes: used things, things with a history that started long before I came along, but now have been abandoned by their owners and the meaning they once had. These are the things I picture when I’m translating a poem.

Street market, Tarma

I can see the objects, and the market-seller sees them too, but we both have different names for each object. For example, a watch with a hologram of a horse on it. This object exists outside of both of our different names for it. It has a history – it might have been made in a another country where they have yet another name for it, and bought by someone who had their own personal name for it. Then, when this buyer grew up or bought a newer model the hologram watch ended up in this market stall, where I am eyeing it up, preparing myself to ask how much it costs in my best Spanish.

There is no ‘original’ meaning of a poem, only each readers interpretation of it. Just as the seller waits for a buyer, the words are waiting, in a sort of limbo, to be imagined into life.

Some people are scared to translate poems because they think the poet is going to turn around and say: “that’s not what I meant!” But as soon as a poet gives their poem to the world, it doesn’t belong to them any more. It belongs to you. You bought it, remember? In the market, fair and square.

Annie Muir

*

Tratando de Traducir a un Erizo

He estado trabajando como voluntario para LAFF como Coordinadora de Comunicaciones por un mes. Ha implicado muchas cosas nuevas para mí (¡desde usar Instagram a bailar bachata!) y lo he disfrutado inmensamente. Uno de mis mayores desafíos ha sido mantenerme al mismo nivel con el resto del equipo con el español. Aunque hablamos inglés en la oficina principalmente (excepto los martes), siempre que visitamos a nuestros socios y los niños con quienes trabajamos, todo está en español. Hice clases semanales de español durante casi un año antes de venir a Perú. Pero incluso si aprendes toda la gramática de antemano, nunca podrás evitar esa sensación de terror al no saber lo que están diciendo la mayoría de las veces.

Este sentimiento no es nuevo para mí. Inmediatamente después de la universidad me mudé a Berlín sin saber una palabra de alemán. ¿Por qué hago estas cosas? Por el mismo motivo que hago todo lo que hago, por la poesía. Rilke me llevó a Alemania, al igual que Blanca Varela me trajo a Perú. Quería leer los poemas de estos poetas con mis propias palabras, no en una vieja traducción que intenta meter las rimas cuadradas en un agujero redondo. En resumen, quería traducirlos yo misma.

Trabajando en mi estrategia de redes sociales!

Encuentro que traducir un poema de un idioma extranjero es mucho más fácil que tratar de entender algo que alguien me dice en una conversación. Esto se debe a que, a diferencia de una conversación, las palabras en un poema no están flotando en el aire, desesperadamente coloquiales y específicas, sino que abarcan todo y están fijadas en piedra, como la escritura en una tumba.

En su ensayo ‘Che cos’è la poesia?‘ (o ‘¿Qué es la poesía?’ – un título italiano para un ensayo de un alborotador franco-argelino) Jacques Derrida usa una imagen para responder a su pregunta: la poesía es un erizo, acurrucado en una bola en medio del camino, demasiado asustado para desenrollarse y huir para protegerse del peligro inminente de un automóvil.

¿Qué está tratando de decir sobre la poesía? Para mostrarnos lo que quiere decir, Derrida usa una imagen en lugar de una explicación. Al hacerlo, trata su ensayo como si fuera un poema, no una prosa. Él no trata de explicarte cómo la poesía es un erizo, así como no intentaría explicar el significado de uno de mis propios poemas. Simplemente es. Del mismo modo que la expresión facial y el lenguaje corporal de una persona son igual de importantes (si no más) que las palabras que dicen, la forma en que se ve un poema y las imágenes que crea en nuestras cabezas, son tan importantes como lo que está escrito.

Me gusta ver las palabras en un poema que estoy traduciendo como si fueran objetos: específicamente, los objetos que se muestran en un puesto de un mercado en un país extranjero.

Puesto en el mercado, Tarma

En el Perú hay mercados por todas partes. Hay grandes mercados de artesanía turística que venden souvenirs, así como mercados locales interiores que venden alimentos y las necesidades cotidianas de los hogares. Hay mercados que llenan vecindarios enteros con diferentes colores de lona en ciertos días, donde si giras en una esquina verás desde mantas tejidas de varios colores, a cabezas enteras de cerdos y mujeres mayores despellejando cuyes. Luego están las personas que venden sus productos en las calles: los de aspecto profesional que ruedan en sus máquinas de palomitas de maíz o las parrillas con anticucho sobre pavimentos implacablemente desiguales hasta que encuentran el sitio perfecto. Pero también las innumerables personas sentadas en las calles, con una manta de maní o papas sueltas frente a ellas, o personas que caminan por ahí vendiendo sándwiches caseros que sacan de sus mochilas, o subiendo a los autobuses con cajas de dulces.

Todo el mundo tiene algo que vender. Simplemente tiene sentido aquí. Me encanta el trueque de un llavero de delfín de plástico en un autobús lleno, recoger algunos huevitos de cordoniz rápidos en mi camino al trabajo y hacer canchita en mi camino a casa. Pero mis cosas favoritas para buscar en un mercado son los objetos y la ropa de segunda mano: cosas usadas, cosas con una historia que comenzó mucho antes de que apareciera, pero que ahora han sido abandonadas por sus dueños y el significado que una vez tuvieron. Estas son las cosas que me imagino cuando estoy traduciendo un poema.

Puestos de mercado y vendedora, Tarma

Puedo ver los objetos, y el vendedor del mercado también los ve, pero ambos tenemos nombres diferentes para cada objeto. Por ejemplo, un reloj con un holograma de un caballo en él. Este objeto existe fuera de nuestros dos nombres diferentes para él. Tiene una historia: podría haber sido hecha en otro país donde tienen otro nombre para él y ha sido comprada por alguien que también habrá tenido su propio nombre. Tiempo después, cuando este comprador creció o compró un modelo más nuevo, el reloj con holograma terminó en este puesto del mercado, donde ahora lo estoy mirando, preparándome para preguntar cuánto cuesta en mi mejor español.

No hay un significado “original” de un poema, solo la interpretación de cada lector. Justo como el vendedor espera a un comprador, las palabras están esperando, en una especie de limbo, para ser imaginadas en la vida.

Algunas personas tienen miedo de traducir poemas porque piensan que el poeta se va a dar la vuelta y decir: “¡eso no es lo que quise decir!” Pero tan pronto como un poeta entrega su poema al mundo, ya no les pertenece. Te pertenece a tí. Lo compraste, ¿recuerdas? En el mercado, justo y cuadrado.

Annie Muir

I have been working for LAFF for a month now and I have already had the opportunity to get involved in many of its numerous projects and activities! I am going to work for LAFF as Programme Coordinator for 4 months as part of my gap year between my bachelor and my master’s studies. I applied, got accepted and left from Italy to Peru all within two weeks: I literally threw myself into this new experience, knowing very little of what I was to face. LAFF dedicates all its resources to help the children of areas near Cusco, and the help we provide can be delivered in different ways. One of these ways, in the case of the young girls that LAFF supports, is to teach them about their bodies and, in the last project’s case, providing them with menstrual cups. Under a male point of view, I knew little if anything about them, but I soon understood their importance and functioning. I now deem myself a specialist on the subject!

Getting my first kiss from an alpaca, January 2019

My first impressions living in Cusco and working for LAFF

You don’t need much time to fall in love with Cusco and Peruvian people. I took the first days in the city to explore the centre and get myself used to the altitude, which is not the most breath-taking things of this place. After 3 or 4 hours walking around the historical centre, I already craved to see every place in and around Cusco, trying all the foods and beverages in the Central Market of San Pedro or that the women, dressed up in the typical Peruvian clothes and wearing the typical trensa, sell on the street.

The third day after my arrival in Cusco, I finally went to the office to get introduced to my new job as Programme Coordinator for LAFF. What I understood right away was that all the days were going to be different from each other, which is something I am really valuing and enjoying. Indeed, we never spend the whole week in an office! The time varies between visiting partners, carrying out workshops, or doing market research. A very interesting market research was indeed the first task that was assigned to me.

Learning about Menstrual Cups

Currently, I am the only male at the office, but this did not represent a reason for not being in charge of conducting a research on menstrual cups! This topic remains a taboo among the girls we try to help as well as those that live in more reclined environments, and it is not something I had the chance to discuss before arriving here. It has been quite funny that me, the only boy at the office, had to explain all the girls all the detail between the different menstrual tools! The faces of the girls at the office where priceless when I tried to explain them that the Duet, a contraceptive diaphragm, could be used as a menstrual cup too. As a matter of fact, every time I describe what I am researching about, everyone reacts amazed and extremely amused, being them my colleagues at the office, my family here and at home, or my friends.


“I did not imagine how big of change a little silicon cup can make for millions of girls.”

Nevertheless, my research is part of one of LAFF’s new projects, which aims at discovering if the girls of two of our partner organisations, Sacred Valley Project and Casa Mantay, will like and adapt to using the menstrual cup. If our project turns out to be successful, it can have numerous advantages to the girls and to the environment, and could be hopefully scaled up. Indeed, the potential benefits are various, such cost reduction (as the cups can be used up to 10 years!), major sustainability, lower environmental impact, and more hygiene. Furthermore, it can lead to important psychological and social outcomes, as talking about the menstrual cup and using it can help the girls break taboos around menstruation and their bodies. Finally, a research on this subject is a novelty in the rural Andean region; therefore, it helps raise awareness about the girls’ conditions and has the potential become an example for other organisations to carry similar programmes.

Teaching a workshop on sexual education in Azul Wasi, February 2019

From a male perspective, there are many issues that are often neglected. Until less than a month ago, I did not imagine how big of change a little silicon cup can make for millions of girls, and I ignored how many problems the lack of these can entail. Working for LAFF, in an office and environment female-dominated, has already taught me many things and helped me broaden my perspective on many issues. I hope that the acquired knowledge can allow me to help many more girls, by continuing the research on the menstrual cups and finding other ways that can affect their lives.

If you also want to learn many new things about international development that would not even cross your mind right now, and you are thinking about applying volunteering aborad, visit our website or alternatively get in touch with us ([email protected]) to see how your skills could benefit us!

Riccardo Pani

Living in Cusco as a LAFF volunteer

I’m working for LAFF for 6 months as part of my University placement year. I decided to apply for LAFF, because I wanted experience working for an NGO. I was also very pleased to know that LAFF purely dedicates all its resources to benefit the children of areas near Cusco, Peru. I have worked for LAFF for 2 months now and the NGO has exceeded my expectations! Not only living in one of the best cities in the world, LAFF truly dedicates all their time and energy to supporting over 110 children. You really feel like you’re making an impact here, which is the ultimate goal for any NGO.

AN ‘AVERAGE’ WEEK FOR A LAFF VOLUNTEER

Something I really value about working for LAFF is that you don’t do the same thing every day. You don’t spend the whole week in an office! Your time varies between visiting partners, carrying out workshops, or doing market research!

Mondays always start with an 11 o’clock meeting to discuss the tasks of the week ahead. Our communications coordinator holds the meeting and the volunteers individually discuss their plans of the week. This is also an opportunity for the volunteers to see how we can work together and help each other with either workshops, projects, ideas or mundane LAFF tasks. After the meeting its potluck! Everyone has to bring a dish to work to share at lunch. I went a solid month of just bringing fruit because the thought of making a dish was too much effort (it’s very cheap to eat out in Cusco). Once lunch is over, its back to the office and you hope it isn’t your turn to wash up this week. The afternoon consists of carrying out tasks that we discussed in the meeting and then trying to encourage the first person to stand up from their chair to make you a coffee.

Tuesday. My day normally begins by checking my emails. Once I have replied to everyone I begin by checking our JustGiving page, to update any new funds and then fill out our analytics of social media websites and make progress reports. By lunchtime I usually go to Bobs. If you’re a LAFF volunteer, within the first week you will get to know Bobs’ restaurant. Bobs is a ‘menu economico’ restaurant, providing a soup, main dish and some sort of jelly/liquid dessert along with some strange hot drink that tastes like celery (known as ‘mate’). This place is S/.7 for lunch and never disappoints. Around 1-2pm you will find most LAFF volunteers and Globalteer volunteers in Bobs along with the Peruvian regulars. My afternoon consists of making sure I have chips ahoy (the cheapest and best chocolate cookies you’ll ever find in Peru), running the Ambassadors Programme, replying to emails and coming up with new campaign strategies for LAFF.

 

Wednesday. Earlier start because I teach yoga at 9:30am to the girls from Casa Mantay (one of our partner organisations looking after teenage mothers). With my poor Spanish they usually have to copy every move I do! I really enjoy teaching the girls yoga. I normally carry out the class in the garden, which is so nice when it’s sunny (despite the fact I end up with red cheeks from a sun burn). I feel like the girls are improving too because they are getting much better at being able to touch their toes and have told me they have been stretching more! Once the class is over I head back to the office to complete my tasks of the day and start coming up with a theme for the pub quiz. The pub quiz happens every Wednesday and we raise funds from the S/.6 donation to enter the pub quiz. It’s a great way to fundraise and advertise LAFF.

Thursday. I normally work from home in the morning and then head to Casa Mantay in the afternoon to help run English workshops for the girls. This is also a mini Spanish lesson for me, and the girls find it funny due to my inability to roll my ‘Rs’! This week we also did market research in Calca for the possibility of setting up a social enterprise bakery. Another volunteer and I measured the amount of people passing through this village and chatted to them about whether they think a bakery in this village is a good and sustainable idea, and what produce we should sell.

Friday. This is day is normally wrapping up the week’s tasks. We try to do something fun to post on social media and because its Friday! For example, last week we did the ‘exotic fruit challenge’. A blindfolded challenge of tasting different types of local fruit they have here in Peru. Besides completing the finishing work tasks such as recruitment, campaigns, writing blogs, advertising or filling in database spreadsheets, Friday is usually a day for organising trips at the weekend!

The weekend makes you realise that your placement with LAFF is so different to all your friends back at home. Planning trips to see Machu Picchu, Salkantay trek, the Amazon jungle, hikes, and excursions to the salt lakes in Bolivia or spending the weekend being a tourist and walking around beautiful Cusco! You soon realise how lucky you are to be living in such a wonderful place with so much to do next to you.

 

Doing a six-month internship with LAFF was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made! If you would like to see how a grassroots NGO operates, work with children, come up with solutions to provide more educational opportunities for children and young people and work in a team full of dedicated volunteers, then LAFF is the organisation to apply for. Not only do you get all the benefits of working for an NGO, you also get to live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world and potentially visit one of the world’s seven wonders: ‘Machu Picchu’!

 

If you are thinking about applying to work with LAFF visit our website or alternatively get in touch with our communications coordinator ([email protected]) to see how your skills could benefit us!

The Jungle!

 

 

 

This past Sunday, the 7th of October, over 23 million Peruvian citizens went to vote for the Regional and Municipal Elections. Here in Peru, voting is compulsory – meaning you are fined if you do not go to your hometown (or wherever you are registered to vote) and cast your ballot.

In Cusco region, Cusco Province and Cusco city the elected officials and parties include: Jean Paul Benavente from the Accion Popular Party as the governor of Cusco region; Victor Boluarte from the Movimiento Tawantinsuyo (MT Party) as the Mayor of Cusco Province.

What do these results mean for our beneficiaries?
Acción Popular

The AP Party in Peru is a centrist and social/liberal party. It represents a reformist alternative to a more conservative branch of Peruvian politics. The party advocates the promotion of an equal society where opportunities are accessible to all. This is an important point, given most of our beneficiaries endure a significant amount of lack of opportunity due to their socio-political backgrounds. Should the Party remain faithful to their policies, this would possibly mean greater job/educational opportunities for our beneficiaries, effectively helping them become more self-sustainable. Additionally, the AP Party ran under the promise of ‘reconquering’ Peru within the context of a globalised world and to promote to Peruvian youth for them to stay in their ‘birth land’ in order to evade the excess of youth exodus. This particular policy could potentially lead to a betterment of educational institutions in Peru as an incentive for students to stay, effectively leading to a stronger education for our beneficiaries.

Movimiento Tawantinsuyo

The MT Party is defined by the word ‘Tawantinsuyo’, which means empire in Quechua. Its main objectives are to ‘save’ Peruvian values, customs and identity in the region. As the leader of the MT party for Cusco Party, Boluarte ran his campaign promising to prioritise the ‘geopolitical vision of the Inka empire’. In addition, they have promised to prioritise education (which they would like to make universally accessible and free), and promote sustainable tourism practices. Both of these present a promising change for our beneficiaries, particularly the goal to make education more affordable as it could mean that the economic support LAFF provides our beneficiaries with could go towards other needs such as doctors visits, books and other educational opportunities. Boluarte seems to be aware of the limited life paths available to marginalised youth in Peru, which the MT party have addressed in their manifesto by emphasising the need to strengthen the presence of ‘vulnerable youth’ in the public sphere by ‘generally strengthening social organisations that represent Peruvian society’ – our partner organisations can be argued to be included in this group. Whether the MT party will give a greater voice and place an emphasis on marginalised youth as promised remains to be seen.

References: 

Acción Popular Manifesto: http://www.accionpopular.pe/index.php/identidad-ap/idearios-principios

Movimiento Tawantisuyo Manifesto: https://declara.jne.gob.pe/ASSETS/PLANGOBIERNO/FILEPLANGOBIERNO/8275.pdf

Regional Election Results:https://resultados.onpe.gob.pe/EleccionesRegionales/ReGobVic/070000

A 2012 report examined how climate change would change life in Cusco, and what should be done about it. I went recently to a climate change conference at Cusco’s engineering university to find out what progress has been made since it was published.

Peru contributes just 0.4% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (ERFCC, 2012). While Peru emit on average 2.0 metric tons of carbon per person in 2014, British citizens emit 6.5 and gas guzzling Qatar a staggering 45.4 (World Bank, 2014).

It is easy to forget from a western perspective that these figures have a real world impact, until the remnants of yet another ‘once in a generation‘ hurricane drags its feet across the Atlantic and lands in south Devon as a surfer’s dream swell.

Here in Peru however, the consequences are much more tangible. Some of the consequences identified by the Cusco regional government include an increase in forest fires, rainfall variation, altitudinal crop migration, pests & diseases and glacial melt.

The latter is usually pinpointed by the academics as having the largest effect on the local population. In the last 25 years alone the glaciers of Cusco’s Cordillera de Vilcanota range have retreated by 30% (ERFCC, 2012) and with average minimum temperatures are set to increase by 0.7-1.3°C by 2030 (PACC, 2013), the consequent thawing means that the problem is only exacerbated, and by 2050 Peru will have just 60% of the water available today (MINAG, 2009).

“Eighty percent of the farmland is seasonal. In other words, if there is rain, we plant. If there isn’t enough rain, we can’t keep planting. I’m a native of this region. When I was a child, there was quite a lot of water in this region. There were toads and frogs that you don’t see any more. It’s a big worry. And if I go up to the mountains around Urubamba, I see that they’re almost black now. […] The rains used to start in October, and we would plant broad beans, wheat, and potatoes. Now the rains begin around mid-December, and we lose more than a month and a half of growing time.”

~ Cirilo Quispe Latorre, Mayor of Cachimayo.

LAFF’s partners work primarily in rural areas, with a strong tradition of livelihoods in the agricultural sector, so clearly there is potential for the full force of climate change to be felt by our partner’s beneficiaries. Luckily, Cusco’s regional government are not sitting on their hands when it comes to these issues, here are just 9 of the many steps that have been taken in recent times:

1.An overarching framework: Formulated in 2009 and approved by Cusco’s regional government in 2012, the ‘Regional Strategy on Climate Change’ (ERFCC) set out 32 indicators measuring the progress of 19 strategies proposed to strengthen Cusco’s capacity to tackle climate change. Baseline measurements were made in 2014, and a recently updated report analysed the progress of each of these initiatives. Here are some of their findings:

2.Strategies to tackle Deforestation: In a recent study by MAAP (Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project, 2018), in was estimated that 47% of Peru’s carbon emissions were caused by deforestation in the last five years. Still, Peru’s remaining forests absorbed 3.17 billion metric tons of carbon last year (The equivalent of 2.5 years of US carbon emissions). To tackle deforestation since 2015 there have been 6 new reforestation projects creating 5381 ha of new forest. 134 ha alone of seedlings were planted in a project covering Ccorca, San Sebastián, San Jerónimo y Saylla, communities familiar to us at LAFF.

(The red markings in the graphic above show how nationally widespread the removal of important forest has been in Peru.)

3.Renewable energy projects: Reducing carbon emissions was made a priority in the ERFCC report. Renewable energy simultaneously presents an opportunity to reduce reliance on fossil fuels whilst also saving energy costs in the long term. An excellent local example of this in action came from la Universidad Andina del Cusco who recently installed 2 wind turbines and 101 solar panels, saving 30% of their energy consumption.

 4.Water security programs: As a result of climate change there will simply not be enough water for people to continue at their current consumption. Since 2014, 2 new water security programs have promoted effective water management, including the holding of workshops to discuss with farmers how resources can be managed most effectively (15 more are proposed to be established by 2021)

5.Policies to strengthen biodiversity: Climate change is estimated to cause huge biodiversity loss, a crying shame in one of the most unique and biodiverse microregions in the world. Since 2015, 6 new conservation areas have been established, meaning that now over 11% (845,805.15 ha) of the Cusco region is under protection. One of these is located a stones throw away from our partner Sacred Valley Project in Ollantaytambo. It is lovingly called Veronica’s Sanctuary.

6.Strategies to diversify agricultural production: Biodiversity is not only intrinsically valuable, but also affects livelihoods: if a disease affects the principal crop that a community relies upon, it can have disastrous consequences. Since 2015, 3 projects have committed to tackling this, including one by CEDEP Ayllu that among other things has created seed nurseries to protect local strains of potato, quinoa and tarwi.

7.Education: When the baseline report was produced in 2015, they could not find a single example of climate change mentioned in education. We at LAFF share the point of view that change is best implemented from the earliest years, and thus we’re encouraged by the fact that since 2015, 2 separate laws have legislated that climate change adaptation and water resource management be included at different levels of the Peruvian education system

8.Spreading knowledge: Conferences like the one I attended help to spread knowledge of climate change adaptation to the wider public and enable academics to share their findings.

9.Local solutions to global problems: The ERFCC report recognises that none of the projects and policies described could have a lasting impact without the proper consultation and guidance by the local communities. Adaptation strategies were discussed in workshops with community leaders, NGO’s and local government to work together to prioritise the concerns of the local people and strengthen the institutions that enforce climate change adaptation policy.

Overall, much progress has been made during the study period of just over 2 years since the strategic framework was approved. However, there were gaps in the findings of the report. Ironically, the following lecture at the conference identified nitrous oxide emissions (310 times more potent than CO2) as caused primarily by transport and fertiliser use, both of which are left unmentioned by the ERFCC report. I would also have loved specific evaluations of the projects implemented by local governments, but the report revealed that this data was unobtainable, raising issues of transparency and accountability.

(Orlove, 2009)

A common concern with this sort of top-down agenda setting is that local concerns are listened to and then steamrolled by theoretical tinkerers. The graphic above is taken from a 2009 book that shows how academics tended (in this sample at least) to prioritise short-term goals, as opposed to the local herders. Whether this will be the case for the ERFCC is yet to be seen, targets are only set for 2021 but are likely to be updated once more data is gathered. Climate change happens so incrementally that the contribution of a single report is not easy to identify, who is to say that this progress wouldn’t have happened regardless of the academic target making. Either way, the effort is substantial compared to certain other countries that at the end of the day are the largest contributors to the problem.

If you would like to be part of the solution rather than the problem, you can support these organisations I found while researching for this article, they specialise in climate change adaptation projects/research for vulnerable people in the Cusco region:

References

ERFCC, 2012

(MINAG, 2009)

(MAAP, 2018)

(PACC, 2013)

(Orlove, 2009) Glacier retreat: Reviewing the Limits of Human Adaptation to Climate Change

(World Bank, 2017) Data bank

Currently at LAFF we are working with Connecting Business on implementing Salesforce with the aim of improving our efficiency and Customer Relationship Management (CRM).

The CRM as defined by Salesforce is a technology for managing all your company’s relationships and interactions with customers and potential customers. The goal is simple: Improve business relationships. A CRM system helps companies stay connected to customers, streamline processes, and improve profitability.

We believe we can take these principles and apply it to how our NGO works. As a growing organisation, we are gathering and generating increasing amounts of data and we need to make sure this is held and processed securely and efficiently.

Salesforce will help with this, particularly within aspects such as fundraising. We need to have at our fingertips information such as who gave donations and when, and be able to analyse this information. We also want to manage our volunteer data and processes in a more efficient way, bringing all our information and documents together, in one easily accessible place.

As well as these more ‘behind-the-scenes’ functions of our organisation, we think we can record some of our on-the-ground work within our CRM that will enable better data tracking. For example, recording all workshops we carry out and the key data from them to easily generate reports for our partners and supporters.

We are still in the early stages and are very much looking forward to seeing the full impact CRM can have for us.  Once fully completed, we envisage a more efficient system, as we will have all information at a few clicks of a button. It will also allow us to analyse our information, find trends and enable better planning and decision-making. It will automate some of our tasks, helping us be more efficient and spend more time delivering programmes with our partners.

We would like to thank Connecting Business who have been very easy to work with. We started with a lot of options and questions about which CRM to go for, and they helped us narrow this down and select one that was right for us. We have had some experience with CRMs, but have not been through this process before, and so their help put structure into what could seem like quite an unwieldy task.  They have been a reassuring steady-hand and very generous with their time to help us through this project. Connecting Business are great to work with, and invest the time to understand what you need. For more information on Connecting Business visit their website http://connectingbusiness.co.uk/

 

Early this month, Peru hosted the eighth Summit of the Americas, with leaders of 34 American countries.

The discussion about the fight against the systemic corruption that is widespread in the governments and private sectors of the majority of the countries of the region was the main topic of the Summit.

Lately, there is no lack of corruption scandal examples in the daily press. Firstly the summit’s original host Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned the Peru presidency over corruption allegations at the end of March. Mr. Kuczynski is just one of high-level politicians in Latin America and the Caribbean who is either under investigation or charged with corruption in a widening case involving Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction company.


This scandal involves more than 10 countries in America with allegations of illegal payments to politicians in exchange for public construction contracts. In Brazil, almost a third of the actual government ministers, as well as the actual president, Michel Temer, are under investigation. In Ecuador’s the vice-president, Jorge Glas, was sentenced to jail for receiving bribes related to the company.Other cases of corruption include the arresting of Seuxis Hernández, one of the chief negotiators of the Colombian peace deal with the rebels. Mr Hernández is accused of helping traffic 11 tons of cocaine.  In Mexico, the president’s wife is under investigation for buying a multimillion-dollar home from a government contractor under favourable terms.Nevertheless, the corruption issue raises more than just daily political scandals. It’s also related directly to the future of the countries of the region.Lead by corruption, short-term goals and the interest of private big companies, political leaders are letting the common good of the population fall behind. The lack of quality or even of the existence of some public services is remarkable in a majority of Latin American and Caribbean countries.  There is a lack of improvements and plans for a better future that seem to lead the continent into a not so bright future.If we take the case of public education and compare to other regions, South Korea and other East Asian countries for example, had similar, if not worse, educational levels than many Latin American countries 50 years ago. Today, South Korea has significantly better educational outcomes than every single Latin American country according to the OECD publication on quality of education (PISA).

Despite the fact that one of the objectives of the summit was fighting corruption as a way to support the achievement of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, the discussion held seems to be more directed for public notice, to show that the scandals are not being left without a response from the leaders. The debates were essentially about new measures for increasing democratic governance and more transparency and there was a lack of discussion about the long-term effects of corruption in the development of the countries and ways remedy it.

Finally, the document that emerged from the Summit, the Lima Commitment, is a set of directives for countries that does not involve any constraint measures or mechanisms.  All things considered, one is sure, even if the fight against corruption can be strengthened with those new commitments and the political environment begins to change, the damage to public institutions is rooted. It will take a long time to form new leaders that will be able to revert the existent logic and to put into practice long-term policies for a more sustainable development for their population.

 

Photos:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/13/world/americas/summit-americas-corruption.html

https://elpais.com/elpais/2018/04/16/opinion/1523895276_627545.html

Este año Perú ha visto un aumento significante en el desarrollo de energía sostenible con la creación de la más grande central de energía solar en el país, Rubí, localizada en Moquegua.

Este evento marca un cambio optimista de la actitud de Perú desde el punto de vista de sus fuentes de energía renovables y la habilidad de visualizar un futuro sostenible donde incluso las comunidades más rurales podrían tener acceso al electricidad.

El clima y el medio ambiente de Perú son perfectos para la energía solar, con un porcentaje significativo del país cubierto por regiones desérticas o montañosas. La nueva planta de energía solar generará 440GWh por año, el equivalente al uso anual de 351,000 hogares peruanos (ENEL Green Power 2016).

Las principales fuentes de energía del país son hidroeléctricas y gas natural. La hidroelectricidad en principio puede parecer sostenible. Sin embargo, , la desglaciación de los nevados del Perú causado por, entre otras cosas, el calentamiento global, significa que las reservas de agua para la generación de electricidad (y su consumo) están en constante debilitamiento. Además, los daños que las represas hidroeléctricas tienen en el medioambiente suelen ser perjudiciales para la vida natural y para las comunidades que viven en la zona debido a las inundaciones y la interrupción del flujo natural del agua. De hecho, La Comisión Mundial de Represas estima que el número de personas a nivel mundial desplazadas por represas hidroeléctricas cae entre 40 y 80 millones  han desplazado (Earths Rights International, 2014).

 La nueva planta de energía solar, Rubí,  es un gran avance  de la nación en términos de transicionar a energías más sostenibles y  accesibles para todos.

 Un problema grave para el país es proveer electricidad a algunas de las comunidades más rurales debido a la naturaleza difícil del paisaje. Las comunidades que viven en regiones montañosas y en el Amazonas a menudo se quedan sin electricidad. Estas comunidades suelen ser de las más pobres de Perú y su situación de vulnerabilidad se ve empeorado  por la falta de acceso a la electricidad. El cambio hacia la energía solar podría marcar una oportunidad de empoderamiento para estas poblaciones.

 La energía solar es una de las formas más inclusivas de distribución de energía, ya que puede implementarse a gran escala, como Rubí, o a nivel individual. Un ejemplo concreto de cómo la energía solar puede tener un gran impacto en las vidas en Perú, y en particular en la región de Cusco, está en como una de nuestras organizaciones socias, Sacred Valley Project, ha instalado calentadores de agua solares para dar acceso a agua caliente a 47 niñas  en Ollantaytambo y Calca. Con pequeños y grandes acciones hacia la transición a energías más sostenibles y renovables, se logrará mejorar la calidad de vida y del medioambiente del país.

English Version

Peru has seen a significant increase in sustainable energy development this year with the creation of the largest solar power plant in the country, Rubí located in Moquegua.

This marks a hopeful change in Peru’s attitude over its power sources and its ability to envision a sustainable future where even the most rural communities have access to electricity.

Peru’s climate and environment are perfect for solar energy with a significant percentage of the country covered by desert or mountainous regions. The new solar power plant will create 440GWh per year, the equivalent of the annual usage of 351,000 Peruvian households.(ENEL Green Power 2016)

The countries main power sources are hydroelectric and natural gas. Although hydroelectricity may seem sustainable the slow diminishing of Peru’s glaciers due to, among other things, global warming, mean that the reserves of water for creating electricity (and drinking) are on a steady decline. Moreover the damage hydroelectric dams have on the environment are often detrimental to natural life and to the communities that live in the area due to flooding and the stopping of the natural flow of water. The World Commision for Dams estimates that  the number of displaced people caused by hydroelectric dams falls between 40 and 80 million people.(Earth’s Rights International 2014)

The new solar power plant, Rubí, is great progress for the nation in terms of the transition to more sustainable and accessible energy.

A major problem for the country is providing electricity to some of the most rural communities due to the difficult nature of the landscape. People living in mountainous regions and in the Amazon are often left without electricity. These communities are often some of the poorest Peru and their vulnerable situation is made worse by their lack of access to electricity. This shift towards solar energy could mark a chance for empowerment of these people.

Solar energy is one of the most inclusive forms of energy distribution as it can be implemented on a large scale such as Rubí, or on an individual level. A concrete example of how solar energy can have a huge impact on lives in Peru, in particular in the Cusco region, is with one of our partner organisations, the Sacred Valley Project, who have installed solar powered water heaters for 47 girls in Ollantaytambo and Calca. Every action little or small within the transition towards sustainable energy with help improve the quality of life, and the environment here in Peru.

An account by Dawid, recent volunteer here at LAFF who made the big leap from his usual 9-5 to working with LAFF. He offers a valuable insight on the transition, his experience and the struggles of small NGO’s.

Find the unedited version here: http://www.crossingrubicon.org/blog/finding-soul-in-the-corporate-machine

 

My previous job was as a JavaScript Developer in a small team of a behavioural marketing company.  I became Senior Data Analyst and was able to do what I really liked: managing databases, coding, querying, generating reports, graphs, and all that has to do with data.

There was, however, a part of me that has always longed for something different. Part of me knew that my job was good and secure, and for most of my life I thought that is all one needed. The other part had always wanted to break free, work in social development or non-profit sector, but having no academic background, therefore a very limited network, I could not see a way to step into that world.

After many long discussions with a dear friend of mine about the possibilities of transitioning my skills to a non profit I decided to undertake a short volunteering trip in Nepal where I learnt that being with people focused around the same cause and equally dedicated to do something about it, meant much more than just a good paycheck.

And so I wondered: could I push myself to work in a place where I would feel like that every day? I decided to take action. I spent countless hours researching what I could do to get into the non-profit sector and that is how I stumbled upon MovingWorlds. Their mission resonated with me as much as it could. I wanted to volunteer, expand, and adapt my specific skills to the social development world.

Experteering that changed my world

One of the projects I found on MovingWorlds and was accepted to, was Monitoring & Evaluation Coordinator position at LAFF.

What has data analytics in common with monitoring and evaluation – you might ask? Thanks to my friend’s advice, a lot of pushing, and enormous amount of believing in me, I started learning more about how traditional M&E changes its nature nowadays to be even more data-focused and progress further in the “era of data”. After a few courses,  I began to see a clear path where I can fit in that world. For the first time in years I felt like I had a clear goal.

During my placement in Cusco I had a job interview with an organisation from New York and I remember vividly when I was asked the following question: “What, in your opinion, are main differences when working for an NGO and working in a corporate environment?”. I did not have to think twice about it. Working for LAFF reminded me of the golden years of my previous employment, the first three years of a startup when there was a handful of people and twice as many jobs to do. Thanks to the prevailing and common mindset “do whatever is necessary for the good of the team” we did everything we had to, but we did it because we wanted to – and that made all the difference.

Very important fact is that LAFF learned very quickly that my skill set does not end on data and M&E by asking questions that normally would never be asked. They had specific needs but they were never a top priority to fill volunteer positions but in my case of a “tech guy”, they asked me about them a few weeks before my arrival.

It turned out I had exactly what they needed. The organisation was in the middle of Salesforce implementation that was taking ages. Once they found out I have the skills needed to progress with it, my priorities and focus changed. Adaptability of an organisation kicked in big time and I was impressed by it. You need something, you have somebody who matches your needs – you act on it, you do not wait around for weeks to see if it is right. I was given the responsibility, trust, and I have never felt better.

It’s a trap

Small, volunteer-led organisations do not have capacity to hire many professionals these days, and to be honest – the technology trap is still out there because it is a no brainer whether an organisation should pay a fundraising expert or a technician. Technology is still considered to be a very difficult area of life for most people and it’s partly the reason why non-profit organisations find themselves in the so called “technology trap”.

The study published in 2016 by OECD (the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) explored the distribution of users’ computer skills and unfortunately only 5% of the population (almost quarter of a million of people were surveyed in 33 countries) have high computer-related abilities.

While having worked for LAFF I realised that there is a big talent gap between small and mid-sized NGOs and those big ones that can afford technical staff thus leading to the conclusion that experteers like me have an important role to play. My 5.5 months were filled with work, ideas, improvements, discussions, but also knowledge sharing and advocacy about important technological issues (security for example).

I am glad I was and still am part of LAFF’s digital transformation that will hopefully take them one step further to be more advanced, productive, and independent in regards to technology.

Soul in the machine

My main goal was to find a place where I can feel included again, feel like the work I’m doing not only matters but is also creating a positive change. Experteering with LAFF has fully brought those feelings back and I have felt like I was on a new path. Where is it leading? I have no idea but the path feels right and it has led me to my next experteering project, this time for MovingWorlds.

I know how hard it is to see yourself changing your career or even wanting to be involved in the “other” world. Sometimes it is difficult to do it on your own and not everybody would be lucky to have those around who’d give you the final push.
Making the leap is never a quick decision you make in the heat of a moment, even when some people paint it that way it is never like that. Let the idea grow in you, explore, talk to people, past experteers, leaders in non-profit sector, your friends who perhaps volunteered before. Find a place you would like to see yourself in, whether it’s a 6-month experteering project, a new career, or a yearly holiday that instead of lying on the beach, you can spend making a real difference, and go for it!

Most of us, especially technicians, developers, and admins, work in some kind of corporate environment that just feeds the big machine. We all know we have to pay our bills, support our families, and save some dough for our future but thanks to the opportunities of working with organisations like LAFF and MovingWorlds you can not only find but most importantly be the soul in that machine.